Comics has an accessibility problem. After decades of existence some books can be really hard to ease into. That’s why the infamous “jumping on point” was created — single issues designed to garner new readers and lure back old fans. Each week brave surveyors Luke Miller and Jamil Scalese will venture into the comics abyss and let you, the consumer, know just which series are worth JUMPING ON, and which are better left to be revisited at a later date.
X-Men ’92 #1
(Chris Sims & Chad Bowers; Alti Firmansyah; Matt Milla)
Jamil: Spider-Man: The Animated Series, Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men: The Animated Series.
If the mere mention of those three shows didn’t elicit an emotionally nostalgic reaction then it’s likely you were born way before or way after 1985. For an entire generation of comic fans those cartoons were the on-ramp to the Comics Super Highway, the prime pipeline into deep mythologies of worlds fascinating and ornate. It’s almost a given that any comic book fan in their 20’s or 30’s feels a connection to at least one of those classic shows in that triumvirate. I can honestly remember the pure giddiness I’d get whenever a new episode of any of them would air. It’s a feeling I chase every Wednesday during and after my trip to the LCS.
Marvel publishing a digital-first X-Men series based on the 1992 cartoon as part of the Secret Wars event was both a shocker and no-brainer. A comic based on a TV based on a comic? No doubt, that’s exactly what this industry is all about.
Typical to the modern age, and fitting right into the theme of this column, X-Men ’92 has received an official relaunch as an ongoing. It’s actually one of the very few series/concepts to receive a second life after the sprawling, diverse event. The first series (Volume 0) was a hoot, I was consistently surprised at how zany and flippant it could be while taking itself completely seriously. Writers Chris Sims and Chad Bowers aggressively experimented with the material while never forgetting both its prestige and its ridiculousness.
That said, I was a bit tepid on this new beginning. It took me awhile to get into the plot, and the tone teeters between goofy and spooky in a way that hasn’t been completely earned yet. The villains were the main draw for me in this one.
Luke: For a #1, this felt really continuity heavy to me. And this is coming from a guy who loves continuity. If this isn’t a direct continuation of the animated series, it’s its spiritual successor. (Although I think it actually is a direct continuation.) That said, I had too fairly big problems with this. First was the continuity thing. It’s been a long time since I watched the animated series – and while I’d love to rewatch the whole thing, I simply don’t have the time to go back and go through it all. If I’m rewatching anything, it’s Batman: TAS followed by the rest of the DC Animated Universe.
My second problem was the tone: it felt like a goofy kids animated show. Fitting, of course, but the things I liked when I was ten don’t really still apply, by and large. I didn’t even get a spooky vibe, Jamil. I just got goofy. I thought they’d be better served taking the X-Men cast of the 90’s show and giving them the more modern nuanced character development comics can be great at doing, rather than sticking with a formula most nostalgic fans in their 20’s and 30’s have likely outgrown.
I did like the Alpha Red reveal, and I loved all the X-Statix/Exiles/New Mutants cameos as students, but if cameos are on my limited list of highlights, it probably doesn’t bode well for the series.
Jamil: I have to come back to tone, or vibe as you put it, because the source material is plain wacky in that regard. I remember always being tickled at how gravely serious the whole affair was, Cyclops was perpetually fretting over Jean. Wolverine too, if he wasn’t brooding about his dark past. Morph had PSTD and was a complete mess. Professor X couldn’t even take a shit without being attacked in some way. Rogue fought an never-ending battle with her demons, and Gambit had to tuck it into his waist band every time he was around her. And so on. Everyone had massive problems, yet, at the same time the series rooted itself in the typical aspects of child’s television like hokey jokes and light physical humor.
Bowers and Sims seem to try and channel that but also take a step forward with the material in terms of throwing in all types of Marvel characters (like the Russian superheroes and the Fenris Twins) and changing some of the core elements of the set-up. I wouldn’t necessary say the comic is stoked in continuity, it’s more that you have to be really familiar with the cartoon’s status quo. The writers are more concentrated on the world as opposed to trying to do something magnificent with the characters. There are large changes compared to the X-Men: TAS — Students are back at the Xavier estate (the cameos were awesome!), the X-Men roster is slightly different from the show (no Jean and Cyclops, add Bishop and Psylocke), the guest stars are either new or in the case of Maverick (who is just 90’s as all hell) wasn’t a regular player. It seems to me they actually want to characters to remain static, though Volume 0 seemed to comment on that.
X-Men ’92 #1 is a strange animal. I liked the art for the most part, Alti Firmansyah nailed the bouncy animation of the previous era, and the action is tight, but some spots didn’t relate the underlying gritty aspect of the cartoon. The main problems is that her anatomy is a disproportionate and sometimes the characters look a touch too chibi. Seeing that aesthetic applied to someone like the People’s Protectorate didn’t work. Then again, while the silly Omega Red felt off the mysterious monster Alpha Red worked for me. I appreciate the title’s short tradition of applying zany spins to classic X-Villains. That may bring me back for issue two.
Luke: The continuity point is valid. There might not be any required reading/viewing before jumping on here, but to me it sure felt like there was. That might be even worse, as there’s nothing I can fall back on had this issue really checked my boxes for coming back.
And we’re a hair off-topic with the animated series, Jamil, but you’re right. That thing was as melodramatic as it gets. I don’t know if Cyclops yelled “JEEEEEEAAAAAANNNN!!!!!!” in every episode or just every other episode, but I can’t see him in that 90’s costume without hearing that in the back of my brain. Then again, I hear all the main cast voices whenever I read an X-title, just like Batman’s voice will always be Kevin Conroy’s. So it was weird to throw Bishop and Psylocke in this when I had no frame of reference for them. (I’m pretty sure Bishop guest starred at one point, but I can’t remember what he sounded like, and I honestly have no idea about Psylocke.)
I really wanted to jump on this title, because I have an X-itch no books are scratching at the moment, but the negatives outweighed the positives for me here. I have to give this one a pass.
Jamil: I also have an X-shaped void in my lineup so I might give this another issue or two. I thought Volume 0 also started out a little slow but the second issue was so spectacularly ridiculous that I eventually got all four. However, this is an unproven creative team in a competitive market and sometimes that’s all it takes to kill an idea. I’m hopeful for this title but I’m not even sure what I’m looking for it to improve on.